92:  We Honour My Uncle

A close-up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.There was much ado yesterday.

His Harryship rose before dawn, and all ran hither and yon to do his bidding.

He goes to join Mr Secretary [Sir Robert Cecil] on ambassage to the King of France.  They’ll beg him not to friend Spain.

All I can say is, Queen Puss should have sent that King the aid he sought.

What will Mr Secretary get for his pains?  Wet fur and no fish.  (As my mother would have sayt.)

His Harryship’s chamber was in disarray.  The kitchen cat and I made a good breakfast from his leavings.  Then I found paper, dipped his pen, and writ:

Touch not the basket of my Cat, nor the papers therein.  Burn this when you have read it.

H. Southampton.

I would be a poor skoller if I could not write as well as an Earl can.

Then I stepped out to where his horses waited, snorting and stamping.  They’ll not be so haughtie after being ridden through mire.

Our Earl was standing apart.  He was talking to a gardener.

“Most willingly, your lordship,” sayt the fellow, cap in hand, though he’d scarce enough hair to keep his brain warm.  “I’ll call my son.  He’ll count it an honour.”  And added in haste, lest he be thought insolent,Our childern loved that Gib.  Specially our poor Puss [Bess].

Then a strange thing happened.  A drop of water came from his eye and left a glistering trail upon his cheek.  He begged forgiveness, saying, “She’s in Heaven now.”

Our Earl placed a hand upon his shoulder.  “I well recall your daughter,” sayt he in his softest voice.  And how he praised her!  The pretty curtsey she had made him, her fair speech, her smile.

Yes, your Harryship, thought I.  Now I know why many love you.  But when your bum’s in the saddle and the world lies before you, will you spare a thought for my uncle or your gardener’s daughter?

Perchance I wrong him.

The horses moved off slow.  I walked a way behind them.

All saw a boy and girl come by with a small cart.  We heard the gardener call, “Do nowt blasphemious, mind.”

One of our Earl’s gentlemen sayt, “A funeral?  For a cat?”

He replied, “The first lesson that cat taught me was worth the learning.  I took him up, and he shat on me.

A lesson in warefulness?  I doubt he’s learnt it.

I went to find Linkin and Nero.  They told me a cat from our stable had been by, inviting all to farewell my uncle at our Field on the morrow.

Nero offered a song in his honour.

“What have you in mind?” I arrkst.  (I’ve not forgot how he contrived to insult me in the verse he made upon my late mother.)

“An excellent song,” sayt he.  “I heared it at our Earl’s house one summer eve as I sat ’neath a window.  Come again sweet love etcetera.”

“That’s a song about a wicked woman,” sayt Linkin.

John Dowland’s First Book of Songs and Airs, printed in 1597.

“True,” sayt Nero.  “She hoist her tail, and then distained the gentleman.”

“She brake his heart” sayt Linkin. “And made mock of him.”

“One fool deserves another,” sayt Nero. “I’ll amend the words.”

I feared the worst.

But what a throng of cats came to our assembly!

Most could not believe my uncle was gone from this world.  He was with us for so long he seemed immortal.

“He was not of an age,” sayt one, “but for all time.”

Then Nero rose up.  He sang:

Come again, all cats do now invite
Friend Gib, who came so oft to bring us true delight.

To sit, to whurr, to hear, to sing, to sigh
with him again in sweetest sympathy.

Come again, that we may cease to mourn
because he did depart, and leave us all forlorn.

We wait, we weep, we wail, we waul, we cry
to ease our grief in feline harmony.

Poor verse.  But all gave Nero great applauds.

Some cats (readie to woo us queens, and fire-hot to show theirselves) joined with him to sing the song again.

Brats began to yowl in the cottages nearby.  One dog barked, then another.

“Once more!” cried Nero.  And all gave voice.

How we sang!  Even the youngest cats let out a waul or two, though they could scarce have known my uncle.  Nor heard his tales, save from mothers wishing to affright them with monsters and wicked witches.

A cottage door oped, and a woman came at us with a broom.  We fled away like shadows.

A fit end to my uncle’s funeral.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorI’m taking a break from blogging, so this will be the last post for a month or so.

Gib’s niece (who would have written it early in February 1598) might not have liked Nero’s verse, but at least Gib had a poetick send off.  Unlike William Shakespeare, whose death seems to have gone unremarked by his fellow poets in 1616.

I hate to think what the “feline harmony” sounded like, but there are many modern renditions of John Dowland’s melancholy song that’s usually referred to as Come Again.  My favourites are by counter tenor/alto Daniel Taylor, and by tenor William Ferguson.

The Earl of Southampton had Queen Elizabeth’s permission to remain overseas for two years, and take with him 10 servants, 6 horses, and £200.  He also purchased a letter of credit for 1,000 crowns, payable to him in Rouen (Akrigg, p.69).

He must have been delighted to be on the move.  But he did take a fond farewell of Elizabeth Vernon shortly before he sailed.

 

71:  Of Reading, Writing, and My Greatness

I was not born great.  I first oped my eyes in the old Earl’s stable.  That’s why I do love a stable.  A place of scents and sounds most dear to me.

But my lord’s stable was not so peaceful after my little niece lodged there.  She oft told me that she longed to be akwaynted with a book.  I believe it was our play that put this maggot in her head.

A row of books, jumbled on a shelf.

One day when my house was quiet (most gone to a fair or somesuch) I offered to show her the book chamber.

My niece – unaccustomed to so great a house – was doubtful.  She crept in low-bellied, her eyes wide and dark.  I told her we would hear if any came.  She could hide herself while I feigned mouse-watch.

A close=up of the nose and squinting eyes of Gib's niece - a blacl, white, and orange cat.She whispered that she feared the books who sat so still.  “They mean to spring on us,” she sayt.

“They lack the power of motion,” I sayt, and plucked one from the shelf.

She sprang away, but then sat swivel-eared.  “It tells of nowt.  I cannot hear it, nor take its thoughts.”

When she grew bold enough to nose it, she sayt, “It tells of you, and of a man.  He had his hand on a dog not long since.”

I sayt, “Your nose tells who last pawed it.  If you could read, your eyes would tell of hawks.  This book is of falconry.”

Her innocent questions made me merry.  But I was mazed, too.

I entered my lord’s service before I was weaned.  I sat with him and his lady sister in the schoolroom and took my learning there.

I’ve lived long among great folks and forgot how strange all must seem to one reared in a barn.  I offered to show her another part of the house.  I arrkst if she would like to swing from a curtain, or see her self in a mirror.

She refused.  “I wish to know what reading is,” she sayt.

So I leapt onto a table where a soiled, sour thing lay.  Some knave had thumbed it in an alehouse before he left it here.  But it would serve.

“Now see,” sayt I, “these black marks?  Like to a host of little worms?  They are sounds imprinted.”

She joined me, and sayt she could see nowt.

“You’re too near,” sayt I.  “You must sit a way off.”

She drew back, then poked the page.  “They will not move,” she sayt.

“They’re not true worms,” sayt I.  “But they can creep from your eyes to your brain and grow wings there.  Look!  Here it says: tread on a worm and it will turn.  I believe that means a snake will bite you.” 

A page from Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Wit containing his famous attack on 'the upstart crow', generally believed to be Shakespeare.

I read a little more, and sayt, “Here it tells of a tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide.  I have a tiger’s heart, as do you, for all are cats.  But how came a mere player to have the heart of a cat? Perchance he thieved it.  We must read more to know. ” 

“Worms! Eyes! Tigers! Flies!” She struck the page four times.

“Have a care,” I warned her.  “If any page be clawed or torn, this chamber might be closed to me.”

Another lesson I learnt young.  But how learnt I to read?

Then it come to me.  First I learnt to write.  I listened to the sounds my lord made, and watched him make marks with his pen.

And after I could write these marks, I looked for them in books.

The marks in books are many, and oft unknown to me.  Some books are imprinted fair; others are foul and hard to read.

But I found a book of little tales I could read, and then I came upon the Bevis book.  From that I made my first tale.

I believe there are some in this world who can read what’s imprinted, but know not how to write. There are others who can hold a pen and make their names or another pretty mark, but cannot read.

I can do both.  “And that,” as I told my niece, “is why I achieved greatness as a poet.”

“And why my mother told me you never caught owt in your life save a jewel hung from our Earl’s ear,” she sayt.  “But now I know you watch for worm-words, not mice.”

I sayt, “If you are as witty [clever] as your mother was, I can teach you to write.  You need not trouble yourself with reading.”

“Good,” sayt she.  “For books are false.  I believe my nose, mine eyes, mine ears, and my whiskers.  And what my mother told me.  Nowt else.”

As I led her from the house I sayt, “I’ll fetch you when next I find all that’s needful for writing left readie.”

(She did not ask what was needful.  For which I offer thanks: I had not the strength to explain the use of quills, ink, and paper.)

She sayt, “Then I’ll have greatness thrust upon me.”

Saucie.  Like unto her mother.


Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe first book Gib read “of little tales” was probably a collection of Aesop’s fables.  We know he read some of these, because his tale of The Fox and the Cat is derived from Aesop.

The “sour thing” – he means its smell – that he shows his niece is Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, first published in 1592 and attributed to the playwright Robert Greene (1558-1592).  It’s famous nowadays for its attack on an actor referred to as an “upstart crow” who, owing his success to the work of writers such as Greene, thinks he can “bombast out a blank verse” and is “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.”  This is almost universally accepted as an attack on William Shakespeare.

However, astute readers of this blog have spotted that Shakespeare appears to have pilfered some of Gib’s work.  Oh dear.  Who wrote what is just so complicated.